Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have created a low-cost wearable device which they claim ‘transforms the human body into a biological battery‘. The device is flexible and stretchy enough that it can be worn as a ring, a bracelet or any other accessory that touches your skin.
The device is able to achieve this by tapping into a person’s natural body heat and then employing thermoelectric generators to convert the body’s internal temperature into electricity.
Researchers hope this new technology could be used to power wearable electronics without having to include a battery. The wearable device is able to generate about 1 volt of energy for every square centimeter of skin space, which is less voltage per area than what most existing batteries provide, but still enough to power small electronics like watches or fitness trackers.
While similar thermoelectric wearable devices have been experimented on in the past, this new device not only creates energy using body heat, but it can also heal itself when damaged and is fully recyclable—making it a cleaner alternative to traditional electronics.
In order to create the device, researchers started with a base made out of a stretchy material called polyimine. They then stuck a series of thin thermoelectric chips into polyimine base, connecting them all with liquid metal wires. The final product looks like a cross between a plastic bracelet and a miniature computer motherboard.
In terms of how it could be used in the real world, as you exercise, for example, your body heats up and radiates heat to the environment. The new wearable would capture that flow of energy and use it to power your fitness tracker rather than letting it go to waste.
“The thermoelectric generators are in close contact with the human body, and they can use the heat that would normally be dissipated into the environment,” said Jianliang Xiao, senior author of the new paper.
Xiao and his colleagues calculated that a person taking a brisk walk could use a device the size of a typical sports wristband to generate about 5 volts of electricity—which is more than what many watch batteries can muster.
While there are still kinks to work out in the design, Xiao believes that his group’s devices could appear on the market in around five to 10 years.
Take a look at the device below:
Picture: Xiao Lab